William Trevor’s Son Recommends a Previously Uncollected Story by His Father

“Making Conversation” captures the violence that crept into the fiction of the Irish short story master

AN INTRODUCTION BY PATRICK COX

I don’t know where my father, William Trevor, came up with his stories but over the years, certain patterns emerged. There was nothing he relished more than to eavesdrop in public places. Corner tables in restaurants and cafés were his favorite listening posts. My guess is that’s how the wheels for “Making Conversation” were set in motion.

In a restaurant one lunchtime, he might have noticed an unkempt man approach a well-dressed woman. A slightly awkward encounter between them might have ensued, the two appearing to know each other though not by name. My father would have taken mental notes, later writing them down. Gradually, those two people would have evolved into Vinnicombe and Olivia, the lunch spot into Zampoli’s.

At home, we rarely talked about his writing. If I asked him what he was working on, he would respond vaguely or change the subject, and we would move on. I understood about the two worlds he lived in — the immediacy of one, the delay until some future publication date of the other.

We would, in any case, prefer to chat about taxes, or Maggie Thatcher’s unreliable relatives, or how you just couldn’t top strawberry ice cream. We also loved to talk about real-life killers: the Moors Murderers, the Yorkshire Ripper, the Boozing Barber. I know exactly who we’d be talking about now: the Golden State Killer. I would have marveled at the investigators’ genius in creating a fake DNA profile, dramatically narrowing their search for the guilty man. Dad, I think, would have been more intrigued by the killer’s preparations: hiding, in one case, in a closet, possibly overhearing his victims’ late-night pillow talk. Dad would have wondered why a man who so painstakingly planned his attacks would also get caught shoplifting a can of dog repellent and a hammer. That would have kept him up at night.

Violence did creep into his fiction, particularly in the mid-1990s right around the time he was writing “Making Conversation.” Although this story doesn’t have outright murder, I can’t help but find it menacing. But I am also amused by what others may view as trickery: the combination of seemingly anachronistic expressions like “saloon bar” and “moving staircase,” in a story that places itself in the near-present with mention of microwave ovens. In my father’s verbal world, the vocabulary of violence and romance, of the old and the new, existed side by side, as contemporary as the manual typewriter that he used to write his stories. I’ve heard people call his fiction timeless. As timeless, I think, as the revelations from a lunchtime conversation overhead at the table next to yours.

Patrick Cox is the son of William Trevor

William Trevor’s Son Recommends a Previously Uncollected Story by His Father

“Making Conversation”

by William Trevor

‘Yes?’ Olivia says on the answering system when the doorbell rings in the middle of The Return of the Thin Man. The summons is an irritation on a Sunday afternoon, when it couldn’t possibly be the meter-man or the postman, and it’s most unlikely to be Courtney Haynes, the porter.

A woman’s voice crackles back at her but Olivia can’t hear what she says. More distinctly, the dialogue of the film reaches her from the sitting room. ‘Cocktail time,’ William Powell is saying, and there’s the barking of a dog. The man Olivia lives with laughs.

‘I’m sorry,’ Olivia says in the hall. ‘I can’t quite hear you.’

‘I’m not used to these answering gadgets.’ The woman’s voice is clearer now. There is a pause, and then: ‘Is my husband there?’

‘Your husband ?’ Frowning, more irritated than she has been, Olivia suggests the wrong bell has been rung.

‘Oh, no,’ the voice insists. ‘Oh, no.’

‘I really do think so. This is number 19.’ Dark-haired, dark-eyed, with a crushed quality about her features that doesn’t detract from their beauty, Olivia at thirty-seven has been separated from her husband for years and feels the better for it. She has chosen not to marry the man she lives with; there is a feeling of independence about her life now, which she likes.

‘I’ve come up from Brighton,’ the woman two flights below states. ‘I’m Mrs. Vinnicombe.’

Olivia met Vinnicombe on the street. She tripped as she was leaving a house in Hill Street — number​ 17 — ​where she had just been interviewed for a job she particularly wanted. She lost her balance, stumbled down two steps and fell on to the pavement, her handbag scattering its contents, her left knee grazed, tights badly torn. Vinnicombe was passing.

He helped her to her feet, collected her belongings together, noticed her grimace of pain when she began to hobble off after she’d thanked him. ‘No, no, you’re shaken,’ he said, and insisted that she sat for a while in the saloon bar at the end of the street. He bought her brandy, although she didn’t ask for it.

He was an overweight man in a dark suit that needed pressing, Olivia noticed when she had pulled herself together. He was probably forty-two or -three, his pigeon-colored hair thinning at the temples, a tendency to pastiness in his complexion. Feeling foolish and embarrassed, hoping that the incident hadn’t been observed from the house where she’d been interviewed, Olivia insisted that she was perfectly all right now. ‘You’ll get the job,’ the man assured her when she told him why she was in Hill Street. He spoke with such certainty that she thought for a moment he was himself connected with the offices she had visited and had some influence there. But this turned out not to be so. The color had come back into her cheeks, he said. No one would not give her a job, he said.

This confidence was well placed. A month later Olivia began work at number 17, and in time even told the people who had interviewed her how nervous she had been in case, glancing from a window, one of them had seen her sprawled all over the pavement. She laughed about it, and so did they. ‘I was rescued,’ she explained in the same light-hearted way, ‘by a gallant passer‑by.’ Sometimes, when telling other people in the office about the incident, she jestingly called her rescuer a guardian angel. She remembered only that the man had been of unprepossessing appearance, that he had lightly held her elbow when she was on her feet again, and that his voice had warned her she’d been shaken. It was winter then, a January day when she stumbled down the steps, 14 February when she began to work for her new employers. In April, when the window-box daffodils were in bloom, a man smiled shyly at her in Hill Street, and for a moment, as she walked past, Olivia couldn’t remember where she had seen that podgey face before. ‘You got the job,’ a​ voice — hardly raised — called after her.

‘Oh, goodness, I’m sorry!’ Olivia cried, ashamed and turning round. She almost exclaimed, ‘My guardian angel!’ It would have pleased him, she knew. You could guess it would, even on so slight an acquaintance.

‘You’re well?’ he asked. ‘You like it in there?’ He gestured at the offices she had just left, and Olivia said, yes, she did. He walked with her to the corner and they parted there.

Then, one lunchtime, less than a week later, he was in Zampoli’s in Shepherd Market and asked if he might share her table. He asked her name when he had ordered steak-and-kidney and she a chicken salad. His was Vinnicombe, he said. ‘Oh, I invent things,’ he answered when, making conversation, she enquired; and Olivia thought of Edison and Stephenson and Leonardo da Vinci, of the motor-car and the airplane and space travel.

But Vinnicombe’s inventions were not like that. His were domestic gadgets and accessories: fasteners for electric and gas ovens, for microwave ovens, for refrigerators and deep-freezes. He had invented a twin eggcup, a different kind of potato peeler, a carou­sel for drip-drying purposes, an electronic spike for opening and closing windows, a folding coat-hanger, a TV‑dinner aid. Olivia tried to be interested.

‘He isn’t here,’ his wife says, agitated. In Olivia’s sitting room the television screen is blank and soundless now. The man she lives with, annoyed that it has to be so because of a visitor, is having a bath. A Sunday newspaper has been tidied up a bit, a chair pushed back.

‘Of course your husband isn’t here, Mrs. Vinnicombe.’

She shouldn’t have let her in, Olivia is thinking. This woman has no possible right in the flat, no right to disturb their weekend peace. And yet when Mrs. Vinnicombe said who she was, Olivia had found it hard to shout into the house telephone that she did not intend to allow her admittance.

‘I thought he might be here.’ Olivia’s visitor eyes the scarlet blooms of an amaryllis in a plain white container. She is a tall woman, big-boned, with henna-​dyed­ hair, her bright fingernails the same shade as the lipstick that increases by a millimeter or so the natural outline of her lips.

‘I thought I’d better come.’ Specks of pink have appeared in Mrs. Vinnicombe’s gaunt cheeks, confirming her agitation. It’s difficult for her, Olivia tells herself, and does not attempt to make it easier. She sits down also, and is silent.

A week after their second encounter Vinnicombe tele­ phoned Olivia, knowing now where she worked. He invited her to have a drink one evening, a proposition that caused her some embarrassment. This man had been kind to her on the street; it had seemed natural that he should ask to share her table in a crowded lunchtime restaurant; but telephoning the office, issuing a specific invitation, was different. ‘Oh, really, it’s very kind,’ she said, trying to leave it at that.

‘You asked me about kitchen extractors,’ he reminded her on the telephone and she remembered that, again making conversation, she had. ‘I’ve got a couple of brochures for you. I’d just like to pass them over.’

And so they met again, not in the saloon bar where he had taken her after the incident on the street but in one that was further away. It was he who suggested that, and afterwards Olivia wondered if he’d made the choice because people from her office didn’t frequent this bar, if he guessed that their tête‑à‑tête might possibly be a source of awkwardness for her. He had acquired three brochures for kitchen extractors. One of them he particularly recommended. Olivia was between love affairs then, temporarily on her own, which she believed this man had somehow sensed; she had certainly never said so.

‘I’d put it in for you,’ he offered. ‘No problem, that.’

‘Oh, heavens, no.’

‘You’d save a tidy bit.’

‘I couldn’t possibly let you.’

It wouldn’t take more than an hour or two, he said, one Saturday morning. He laughed, displaying small, evenly arranged teeth. ‘My stock in trade.’

‘Oh, no, no. Thanks all the same.’

His eyes were the feature you noticed: softly brown, they had a moist look, suggesting a residue of tears, and yet were not quite sad. It was more sentiment than sorrow that distinguished them, and what seemed like vulnerability. He could acquire any of the three extractors at trade terms, but the reduction for the recommended one was greater. Some cowboy could easily make a botched job of the installation, dozens of times he’d known it to happen.

‘I’ll think about it all,’ Olivia promised, and afterwards on the Underground she found herself wondering if he was lonely. He hadn’t mentioned anything about his private life except that he lived in Brighton and always had.

‘If you’re interested in that particular model,’ he said on the phone two days later, ‘there’s one that’s ordered and the lady’s seemingly changed her mind. In black, as you said you wanted. So there’d be a reduction on the price I gave you, not that there’s anything wrong with it, not even shop​-soiled.’

Since Olivia did need an extractor in her small kitchen, it seemed silly to reject this bargain offer. She began to say again that she couldn’t possibly allow Vinnicombe to install it for her, but already he was insisting, reminding her of this further saving if he did. It seemed rude to go on refusing what he offered, especially as he had already gone to the trouble of finding out so much.

‘I’d really rather . . .’ she began, making one last effort, then giving in.

At Olivia’s invitation Mrs. Vinnicombe has settled herself uneasily on the pale cushions of the sofa but, as if she fears to do so, she does not come to the point. She mentions Brighton again, as conversationally as her husband did when he said he had always lived there. She describes the waves splashing against the pier and the concrete walls of the promenade. She was married in Brighton, she says; a mortgage was taken out locally on the house she has lived in since that time. Her two boys were born not five hundred yards from that house, the younger one — Kevin — ​the last infant to be delivered in the old maternity home, now the site of a petrol station. As a child herself, she built sandcastles when the sea was far enough out; her back and arms peeled one summer, not covered in time.

‘Of course, he told me about you,’ she eventually brings herself to say. ‘Well, naturally, you know that.’

‘Told you what, Mrs Vinnicombe?’

Mrs. Vinnicombe slightly shakes her head, as if an exactitude here is not important, as if what she has said is enough.

‘Sixteen Kevin is now, Josh two years older. Well, of course, you know that too. I’m sorry.’

‘Why have you come here, Mrs. Vinnicombe?’ The specks of pink have spread in the gaunt cheeks and are blotches now. A trace of lipstick has found its way on to one of Mrs. Vinnicombe’s front teeth. She looks away, her gaze again settling on the exotic amaryllis.

‘You took my husband from me. I came to get him back.’

The installing of the extractor lasted longer than a couple of hours. They had lunch together at the kitchen table, soup and salad and the Milleens cheese Olivia had bought the day before. ‘Just a minute,’ Vinnicombe said at one point and went out, returning with Danish pastries. Later, when he finished just before six, Olivia offered him a drink. She opened a bottle of Beaune and they sat in the sitting room.

‘Thank you,’ he said when they had finished the wine, when eventually he stood up to go.

‘I’m awfully grateful,’ she said, realizing as she spoke that he had been going to say something else, that unintentionally she had interrupted him.

‘It’s been so nice,’ he said. ‘Today has been so nice.’ She smiled, not knowing how to respond. She felt nervous again, as she had the first time he telephoned the office. She wrote a cheque. He folded it into his wallet. He had been adamant about not charging for his labour.

‘What’ll you do, Olivia?’ he asked, for the first time using her Christian name. ‘How’ll you spend what’s left of today?’

And she said, wash her hair, because that was true, and watch something on television, and read in bed. She hardly ever went out on Saturday nights, she said.

‘I have to tell you something,’ he said. ‘That first day when we met: remember that day, Olivia?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘I fell in love with you that day, Olivia.’

He was looking straight at her when he said that, his moist brown eyes steadily fixed on hers. Once or twice before, Olivia had met their stare and had been aware of something that reminded her of pleading, as from a child.

‘I had to tell you,’ he said.

She shook her head, smiling, endeavouring to register that she was flattered yet also that what was said must surely be an exaggeration. Olivia had quite often been told before that she was loved and had felt flattered on each occasion; but this was different because, somehow, it was all absurd.

‘I don’t suppose,’ he said, ‘we could meet again?’

‘No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’

‘I had to tell you.’

He had brought a metal tool-container with him and he picked this up from beside the kitchen door. He offered to take away the carton and the packing the extractor had come in, but she said that wasn’t necessary, that she could easily dispose of them. He took them all the same, for the third time saying that he had had to tell her.

‘I was twenty when we married,’ Mrs. Vinnicombe says. ‘I’m forty-one now. It’s quite a time, you know. The boys growing up; months there were with not a penny coming into the house. Oh, it’s better now. I’m not saying for an instant it isn’t better in that respect. Not well off, not even comfortable sometimes, but near enough to not having to worry. It’s been a partnership, you know: I’ve always done the invoicing and accounts, the tax returns, the VAT. Not that I’m trained: I worked in Hazlitt’s, the jeweler’s. That’s where he found me.’

‘Mrs. Vinnicombe, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. By the sound of what you’re saying, you’re under a very considerable misapprehension.’

Mrs. Vinnicombe shakes her head in her dismissive manner, a tiny movement, not one of impatience. Then, as if she has in some way been unfair or discourteous, she says that when her husband told her he held nothing back. Long before that, though, she knew that something was wrong.

‘Well, any woman would. And the boys — ​well, I’ve watched the boys becoming frightened. There’s no other word for it. I’ve watched him ceasing to be bothered with them.’

‘I didn’t take your husband from you, Mrs. Vinnicombe. That is totally untrue. As you can see, I’m perfectly happily–’

‘He gave me the address, no argument at all when I asked him where you lived. Oh, ages ago that was. I don’t know why I asked him. I never thought I’d come here.’

‘Please listen to me, Mrs. Vinnicombe.’

After the Saturday of the extractor installation, Vinnicombe became a nuisance. When he’d said he had to tell her, when he’d asked if they might meet again and she’d said no, he hadn’t passed out of her life, as she imagined he would. He telephoned on the Monday and before he could say anything she thanked him for his work in her kitchen. ‘Just one quick drink,’ he pleaded, and she repeated, even more firmly than she already had, that what he was suggesting was not a good idea. When he pressed her, she said she was sorry if she had ever given him reason to suppose that a relationship such as he was proposing was possible. He took no notice, he didn’t appear to hear. ‘No more than ten minutes,’ he said. ‘Ten minutes.’

Olivia places these facts before Mrs. Vinnicombe, speaking slowly and carefully. She is anxious to arrange every detail exactly where it belongs, to ensure that Mrs. Vinnicombe perfectly understands.

‘Look, it’s an intrusion,’ Olivia said when he was there on the street again, less than a week after his Monday telephone call. He only wanted to explain, he said. ‘That’s all, and then it’s over.’

So reluctantly, and saying she was reluctant, she met him again, in the bar that was not frequented by her office colleagues. ‘I can’t help loving you,’ he said even before their drinks were ordered. ‘From the very first moment I haven’t been able to help it.’

He told her then all that Mrs. Vinnicombe has repeated: about their house and their children. He had no affection for his wife. Once he had, there was none left now: for fourteen years he had been indifferent to her. Quite out of the blue, astonishing Olivia, he mentioned New Zealand, promising she would be happy with him there. He said he had connections in New Zealand.

‘All this is silly. I’m practically a stranger to you.’ He shook his head and smiled. ‘I lie awake at night and every word you’ve spoken to me returns. In passing once, our fingers touched. When you fell down I could have taken you in my arms. Even then I wanted to. I can still feel your elbow in the palm of my left hand. I never loved anyone before. Never.’

His eyes were luminous in his pasty face, a tug that might have been a threat of tears worked at the corners of his mouth. He would do anything, he said, he would take on any work to buy her things she wanted. In New Zealand, he said, they would build a life together.

‘I must go now,’ Olivia said, and walked away from him.

Again, one lunchtime, he was in Zampoli’s; she didn’t go there after that. He wrote long letters that were incoherent in places. They described Olivia’s beauty, the way she smiled, the way she stood, the way she spoke. He would know everything one day, they said: as much as she could remember herself about her childhood and her dreams. She would tell him her dreams at breakfast-time; they would sit in the sun when they were old. She tore the letters up, but sometimes he was there on the street when she looked from the windows of her flat or from the window of her office. She took to leaving the office by going through the garages at the back, into the mews. On the telephone she didn’t speak when she heard his voice.

Once, at the cinema on her own, he arrived in the seat next to hers, and when she moved away he followed her. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said on the street when she had to leave. Furious, Olivia threatened to make a complaint if that ever occurred again. Unless he left her in peace she would consider asking the police for advice.

‘I love you, Olivia.’

‘What you’re doing amounts to harassment. You have no right — ’

‘No, I have no right.’

But Olivia knew she could not bring herself to go to the police, nor even to complain to a cinema manager. One evening he was on the Tube with her and spoke to her as if they’d met by chance. He was there again, behind her on the moving staircase, and at the ticket barrier. ‘Oh, all right,’ she wearily agreed when he invited her to have a drink, hoping in her frustration that if she went through everything she had already said he would at last be affected, would at last see the absurdity of the situation he had created.

They sat beside one another on a red-upholstered banquette and again there was the pleading in his eyes, and suddenly Olivia felt sorry for him. Seven months had passed since he had looked after her on the street. He was a man in torment was what she thought, a man doing his best to talk about other matters, to tell her about an apple-corer he had just interested a manufacturer in. As she had not before, she wondered about his wife, about the house in Brighton he returned to, about his boys. ‘Did you always invent things?’ she heard herself asking, and for the first time a connection was made with a period of her life that still inspired resentment if she brooded on it. When she was fifteen, when she was lumbering through that gawky time, there was her sister’s friend, fiancé as he became, husband in the end. In the hall she had reached up to feel the peak of his military cap, to run a finger round the leather band that touched his hair. And for a passing moment, as she sat on that red banquette with a man who was a nuisance, Olivia felt again the pain there’d been.

Music comes faintly from the bathroom: the end of the first movement of Mahler’s First Symphony. Then a tap is turned on and the music is drowned.

‘Your husband’s only been here once, Mrs. Vinnicombe. To fit an extractor over my electric hob.’

Olivia doesn’t reveal to Mrs. Vinnicombe that her husband said he was indifferent to her, or proposed a new life in New Zealand with a stranger. Instead she asks if what Mrs. Vinnicombe is saying is that she doesn’t know where her husband is.

‘My hope was he’d be here.’

‘Your hope?’

‘He only wanted to be with you. No bones about it: he said he couldn’t lie. A meaning in his life. He used those words.’

Mrs. Vinnicombe is talkative now. Her unease has dissipated; fingers twisting into one another a moment ago are still.

‘He never made me think you were a ​go‑getting woman. I never thought of you as that. “Don’t blame her,” he said, no more than two days ago, but then he’d said it already. When he told me was the time he said it first, and often after that.’ Her voice is flat, empty of emotion. She says she’s frightened. She says again her hope had been to find her husband here.

‘I don’t think I understand that, Mrs. Vinnicombe.’

‘He took nothing with him. No shaving things, pajamas. He didn’t say goodbye.’

How long, Olivia begins to ask, and is immediately interrupted.

‘Oh, just since yesterday.’

‘Your husband and I were not having any kind of love affair.’ She gave him no encouragement, Olivia says: not once has she done that. She doesn’t say she pitied him after he followed her from the Tube station, the night they sat together on the red-​upholstered banquette, the night she asked him if he had always invented things. These details, now, seem neither here nor there: omitting to relate them is not intended to mislead. ‘Why don’t we have a bite to eat?’ he said and, still pitying, she allowed him to take her to a place he knew nearby, called the Chunky Chicken Platter. ‘All right for you?’ he solicitously enquired when they were given a table there, and it was then that she knew she was pitying herself as well. A Good Friday it had been when she reached up in the hall to touch the cap of the man her sister was to marry. A Sunday, weeks later, when she lifted it down and pressed it to her face.

‘Your husband wasn’t even a friend, Mrs. Vinnicombe.’ Hearing that, Olivia’s visitor looks away, her head a little bent. How can that be, she softly asks, since he has done odd jobs about the place? How can it be, since he has described a woman’s hair and her eyes, the way she stands, her voice, her slender legs, her neck, her hands?

‘I was sick,’ Mrs. Vinnicombe adds to all this. ‘I got up one night, three o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t sleep, I vomited in the bathroom. Your stomach turns over with jealousy, hour after hour, and then you’re sick. I didn’t tell him. Well, naturally.’

‘You have no cause for jealousy, Mrs. Vinnicombe.’ Olivia begins at the beginning, from the moment on the street to meeting Vinnicombe again, by chance, she thought; and his being, by chance also it seemed, in Zampoli’s that day; how after that he bothered her. She can think of no other way to put it, even though it sounds a harsh way of describing the attentions of a man whose wife is in distress. The chicken place he took her to was horrible.

‘Oh, jealousy is vile, I grant you that.’ And as if Olivia hasn’t offered a single word of explanation, Mrs. Vinnicombe pursues the thread of her conviction. ‘Yet there it is, and nothing you can do. I always knew when he’d been with you. Oh, not smears of lipstick,​ telltale perfume — nothing like that. It was worse because he wasn’t the kind of man to have a woman, not the kind you read about in the papers. He wouldn’t have made the papers in a million years. He took the boys out with their kites when they were little. He brought cakes back, treats for tea, always something when he had a bit to spare. They’ll miss that now. They’ll think of it when they think of him.’

‘Mrs. Vinnicombe, you can see your husband isn’t here. I’ve been living here with someone else for months. I’ve no idea where your husband is.’

‘I came to plead with you and with him too, to talk about the boys. I came to say to him we were a family.’

Mrs. Vinnicombe’s tears, so long held back, come now. She weeps on Olivia’s sofa and her tears run through her make‑up, smearing it. Her weeping drags at the contours of her face, bunching the flesh into ugly grimaces. She tries to speak and cannot. She doesn’t search in her handbag for a tissue or a handkerchief but sits there, stark and upright on the pale cushions, noisily sobbing as she might in private.

‘“Oh, God, let him be there” was what I asked when I rang your bell.’

‘I don’t understand what you’re saying, Mrs. Vinnicombe.’

But Olivia does. Her protest is conventional, all she can think of to say. She doesn’t want to share her vis­ itor’s thoughts. None of it concerns her.

‘You took my husband.’

Abruptly, Mrs. Vinnicombe rises.

‘You took my husband and now you can’t give him back to me.’ She crosses the room to the hall, not answering questions that are put to her. ‘I keep on seeing him,’ she says, ‘and his footsteps on the sand. On soft, wet sand and then they ooze away to nothing.’

She does not speak again. Some minutes later Olivia sees her from a window, crossing the empty Sunday street, walking slowly, as if the encounter has drained her energy. She passes from view, slipping round the corner.

‘I hear you’re learning German.’ Her sister’s friend smiled. ‘I like your dress,’ he said, and her sister said that dress had been one of hers. He went on talking when her sister wasn’t there. He knew of course: making conversation was a kindness offered.

Mahler is still playing in the bathroom, just audible above the sound of water running out. The day her sister married, Olivia looked down at her bedside lamp and whispered to herself that all she had to do was to press the bulb out and place her thumb, dampened with spit, in the socket. That day she saw her coffin carried, lowered while he stood at the grave-side, the collar of his overcoat turned up. She heard her own voice murmuring from a romantic shroud, ‘My darling, I have loved you so.’

Olivia gazes from the window at pigeons waddling beneath a tree. Raindrops spatter the pavement, then rain falls heavily and the pigeons crossly flutter off, in search of shelter. His wife is on the train by now, huddled in her corner, pretending to watch the houses going by, the same rain falling. Somewhere else, maybe, it falls for him. The balance of the mind disturbed: the woman on her train wonders if that worn expression will soon be used. He, wherever he is, already knows better.

He’ll be there when she returns — ​or tomorrow or the next day — ​and in their house in Brighton they’ll tack together a marriage and the family life his foolishness spoiled. He’ll hear her repeating many times that she saw his footsteps disappearing on soft, wet sand. He’ll not confess that he, too, imagined his last thoughts reaching out towards his hopeless love, that he imagined the seaweed in his clothes, and sand beneath his eyelids and in his mouth. He’ll not confess he knew, in the end, that the drama of death does not come into it — that​ some pain’s too dull to be worthy of a romantic shroud. Courage could have brushed glamour over what little there was, but courage is ridiculous when the other person doesn’t want to know.

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